Cloud computing keeps on trucking

February 23, 2009, 8:17 PM UTC
Preston Feight, chief engineer, uses cloud computing to redesign Kenworth trucks without making huge investments in technology.

Most people don’t spend much time thinking about mudflaps – those strips of rubber behind a big rig’s wheels that repel grime and maybe show a gun-toting Yosemite Sam, warning “Back off!” But by using sophisticated design technology, engineers at truckmaker Kenworth discovered that the little flaps were also a major source of drag. Simply trimming and tapering the flaps will cut about $400 from a typical truck’s annual gas bill.

How exactly did Kenworth solve its mudflap quandary? The company, a unit of $15-billion-a-year truck conglomerate Paccar, took advantage of cloud computing. In Kenworth’s case, engineers rented time on a supercomputer thousands of miles away; that system helped employees root out assorted gas-guzzling design flaws they might have missed had they relied just on computers at Kenworth’s facilities outside Seattle.

Indeed, the engineers used rented computing gear to produce the T660, an aerodynamic truck released in 2007 that ditched the typical bulldog look for a more dolphin-like snout and can get roughly seven miles per gallon. (Don’t laugh. That’s actually impressive for a semi.)

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